Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How Far Would You Go? As Far As Tyler?

In Episode 43 of the Genealogy Gems Podcast this week I shared an email from a listener who told us about how thrilled she was to find the location of the homestead of one of her ancestors. It can be really exciting to stand on the very spot where your ancestors once dwelled.

Now ask yourself:
How far would you be willing to go and how much would you be willing to do to locate an ancestor's homeland?

I also told you in Episode 43 that my daughter Lacey and I had an opportunity to visit with Tyler MacNiven, and that I would be blogging about that this week. If his name sounds familiar to you, it's probably because he and his friend BJ were million dollar winners of the CBS television show The Amazing Race. (Think "the Hippies").

Well, Lacey and I discovered that Tyler took an extraordinary ancestral journey that I think is probably one of a kind. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has done what Tyler has in order to find an ancestor's place of origin!

Tyler MacNiven walked 2000 miles...from the bottom of Japan to the very top! It was a five-month odyssey to find his American father's Japanese birthplace. (And also, Tyler admits, to impress a Japanese girl that he had his eye on!) Best of all, he meticulously filmed his journey which is available as the film Kintaro Walks Japan.

"My first trip to Japan in 2002 led me on a fairytale-like escapade through the rolling Japanese countryside." says McNiven. "My new friend Kobo The Clown dubbed me Kintarō (金太郎), which means ‘golden boy’ because of my crazy blond Californian locks. Kintaro is a legendary boy who was known to have great strength, wrestle bears, and befriend all the animals of the forest. Kobo took me to his clown commune where I spent two days balancing on the tight rope, learning to toss Japanese clowns, and drifting off to sleep to the sound of clattering juggling pins. Japan and I were instant friends, and I had to go back."

MacNiven embodied much of that strength of character as he strode the Japanese landscape, and like Kintaro, became a bit of a celebrity to the Japanese people while doing it.

"I thought that it would be a good chance to find my Father’s birthplace in Japan’s northern most island, Hokkaido. His parents had been Presbyterian missionaries in Hokkaido for two years, giving birth to the Big Cheese (Tyler's dad) there. Soon after returning to the U.S., Grandpa died and all the information of my father’s birthplace slowly evaporated. All except one sketch Grandma drew of a distinct coastal scene near where they were living."

Armed with just that pencil drawing from his Grandmother he made the trip, along the way arm wrestling 100-year old ladies, and dodging trains in tunnels!
A bit of wackiness definitely flows through the MacNiven DNA. Tyler's dad Jamis runs a restaurant here in the Bay Area called Buck's of Woodside, their motto being "Flapjacks and Tomfoolery".

You can watch Kintaro Walks Japan on Google Video, and purchase your own copy of the DVD at the Kintaro Walks Japan website. It's a funny and inspirational film the whole family will enjoy!

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